Boxing: Benn is simply the equal: A lacklustre Eubank survives with his dignity intact after 12 furious rounds see the judges announce a split decision

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The Independent Online
AT the end of 12 thrilling rounds at Old Trafford last night, the second outstanding contest they have fought in three years, Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank could not be separated.

The one result few people had imagined, a draw, emerged as the ring announcer read out the official scoring. Before then, having expended the deep resentment between them, they embraced in the centre of the ring.

By the time the fighters made their way to the ring it was estimated that more than 40,000 were present and they sent up a roar in keeping with one of football's great theatres.

From the mixed reception he received Eubank was not the more popular man as he made his customary acrobatic entrance, leaping full over the four strands before posing in the centre of the ring.

The World Boxing Council champion, Benn, was greeted by the recorded sounds of Big Ben and the sight of the violinist Nigel Kennedy who played the national anthem before the concert got underway.

Eubank looked more the full super-middleweight and as the weigh-in took place more than 24 hours before the fight he probably had a distinct advantage in that respect at the opening bell.

Winning their first contest by a stoppage in the ninth round, Eubank had persuaded most people that he was a clear favourite but it was Benn who launched the first attack with a left hook and forcing Eubank to give ground.

When Eubank retaliated they went into a clinch but Benn continued to do most of the forcing while the challenger was content to tie him up before attempting to work away at the body. Another hook from Benn, this time with his right, had Eubank backing off again before Benn was warned for hitting low.

Scorning the use of the stool at the end of the first round, Eubank smiled out at the audience as though attempting to convey the impression that he already had Benn's measure. He began to get his jab going following up with solid body punches.

A short right hand brought Eubank up smartly and encouraged by this Benn scored with another followed by a left hook that brought a faint smile to Eubank's face.

Benn kept up his swarming attack but paid for a moment's carelessness when he stumbled on to another right that sent him sideways. Every time Benn saw an opening he went for it. But O'Connell warned him again for a blow landed on Eubank's left side. Eubank blinked when a flat left hook sent spray spinning from his head and by the end of the third he was more inclined to take a breather in his corner after the bell.

A left from Benn sent him along the ropes although there was nothing in his eyes to suggest that the punch had temporarily stunned him. There was a relentless quality about Benn's boxing and the comparative ease with which he got to Eubank's head encouraged him to sustain a percussive momentum.

Right at the start of the fifth round Eubank surprised Benn with a stiff, straight left clearly shaking him. He followed up immediately with a barrage of punches which forced Benn to fight back desperately. It was the first time Eubank had really opened up and he began to score freely as the crowd responded to his efforts.

Benn smiled to indicate that he had weathered the storm, beckoning Eubank at him and then staging a determined rally. However, it was Eubank's best round so far and he got to Benn again just before the bell.

By the sixth round Eubank was proving to be the more accurate puncher and another breach of the rules by Benn, another low blow, resulted in O'Connell giving him a public warning and deducting a point.

Giving ground before another flurry of punches Benn was bundled through the ropes on to the ring apron, but he rallied strongly at the end of the round, catching Eubank with a short right almost as the bell sounded.

Both men stumbled to the canvas after becoming entangled in the ninth and Eubank was warned for holding after another exchange in the centre of the ring. Benn continued to force the pace, Eubank to adopt the role of counter puncher and scored cleanly enough to take the ninth. And still there could not have been much between them.

Benn attempted to forge ahead in the 10th and clearly hurt Eubank with a short left hook. There was no telling what punch Benn intended when he forced Eubank back on to the ropes, just that he was eager to throw everything.

The relentless pace was testimony to the fitness of both men and Eubank moved it up even further in the 11th, probably realising that a supreme effort was required of him in the final two rounds.

A cracking left hook shook Benn and when he ducked away from another shot he took a right to the head. As they came up for the final round it looked as though the contest could go either way and Benn took the initiative driving Eubank into a corner and refusing to back when the WBO champion rallied, neither man willing to give an inch.

Probably it was the fairest result to the second tremendous battle they have fought and if this one was not as brutal as their first affair in Birmingham three years ago it lived up to all expectations.

On the official count, Harry Gibbs scored it 115, 113 to the WBO champion Eubank. Carol Castellano considered that Benn was the winner 114, 113. The decisive vote came from Chuck Hassett who had them level at the end of the contest.

(Photograph omitted)